A prominent environmental group has said it is “outraged” by a proposal to build overhead transmission infrastructure through the Kosciuszko National Park, with the National Parks Association of NSW saying the works would destroy a significant portion of the national park.
The NSW government is planning to amend the Plan of Management for Kosciuszko National Park, exempting the Snowy 2.0 development from a requirement that all electricity network infrastructure be built underground.
The management plan is intended to protect the Kosciuszko National Park, and placing electricity network infrastructure underground would minimise the impact of new transmission lines that are set to be constructed to serve the Snowy 2.0 expansion.
The current management plan requires all new “telecommunication and transmission lines to be located underground”, but a recently exhibited amendment to the plan would provide an exemption for any work completed by TransGrid, which will build a new transmission connection to the Snowy 2.0 project.
The planned amendments have been criticised by the National Parks Association of NSW, which has long opposed the Snowy 2.0 development, saying that allowing overhead transmission lines to be constructed in the national park would cause unacceptable damage.
“Snowy Hydro and TransGrid claim to be responsible tenants in Kosciuszko National Park. They know the Plan of Management requires that all new transmission circuits must go underground, but are instead pressuring the NSW government to revoke the prohibition on more overhead towers in Kosciuszko,” National Parks Association of NSW executive officer Gary Dunnett said.
“The result will be a cleared slash through the National Park 8 kilometres long and up to 200 metres wide, with two sets of towers up to 70 metres high. The amendment is yet another example of environmental laws being bypassed for Snowy 2.0.”
“This is the first time that the requirement to put any new transmission in Kosciuszko National Park underground has been put to the test, and shockingly, the Government’s response has been to strip away those protections,” Dunnett added.
The Snowy 2.0 development will expand the capacity of the existing Snowy Hydro scheme, adding an additional 2,000MW of hydroelectric generation capacity, and up to 350,000 megawatt-hours of pumped hydro energy storage. The $5.1 billion project -not including transmission lines – has been fast-tracked through the planning approval process by the NSW government and enjoys the support of its sole shareholder, the federal government.
A spokesperson for the Department, said any changes to the national park’s management plan would require an assessment under the state’s environmental legislation, and that there would be an expectation that environmental offsets would be required to be secured by the project.
“Changes to [Plan of Management]’s are done on a case-by-case basis. Any request to construct infrastructure on park would first require assessment under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979. If approved, and all provisions in the [Plan of Management] are deemed to have been appropriately addressed, the proponent would be granted an easement under the National Parks and Wildlife Services Act 1974 to allow for the infrastructure to be built,” the spokesperson said.
“The planning approval for Snowy 2.0 requires Snowy Hydro to offset the impacts of the project on Kosciuszko National Park, and it is expected that any approval for the TransGrid transmission line would include similar offsetting requirements.”
A spokesperson for TransGrid said the company had taken the environmental impacts of all options into account when deciding to proceed with the overhead powerlines, saying that underground lines had their own environmental impacts.
“TransGrid takes environmental considerations very seriously on all major projects and after considering environmental impacts and future ground disturbance for maintenance, the options of tunnelling, trenching and directional drilling were ruled out,” the TransGrid spokesperson said.
“The NSW Government will assess TransGrid’s comprehensive Environmental Impact Statement and have the final decision.”
National Parks Association of NSW has previously raised concerns about the plan to construct transmission network infrastructure through the Kosciuszko National park, including the movement of large amounts of spoil, and the risk that invasive fish species could be spread to new areas of the Snowy River scheme.
The group has called on NSW energy minister Matt Kean to step in and prevent the proposed changes to Kosciuszko’s management plan, and previously led the preparation of a joint letter on behalf of 24 organisations and 50 engineers, scientists, environmentalists, academics and economists, calling for the network infrastructure to be built underground.
“The current Plan of Management got it right, all new transmission circuits in the Park must go underground,” Dunnett added.
The call has been echoed by a group of independent members of the NSW parliament, who have issued a joint letter to minister Kean, saying a plan for overhead transmission lines to be constructed in the national park was “short sighted”.
“We were recently alarmed to learn that TransGrid proposes to connect Snowy 2.0 with overhead transmission lines through this pristine national park wilderness. We understand the transmission lines will be suspended on sets of massive steel lattice towers up to 75 metres high and require easements up to 200 metres wide, meaning one square kilometre of national park is to be cleared,” independent MPs Justin Field, Alex Greenwich, Greg Piper and Joe McGirr said in the letter seen by RenewEconomy.
“Such an impact on rare national park is unheard of anywhere else in any modern progressive democracy and in the absence of every effort being taken to avoid the use of overhead transmission, to proceed, could be seen as wilful vandalism.”